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name ; neither ought we to join ourselves, without examination, to any assembly who style themselves Christians. We must consider, above all things, whether their doctrines agree with that form of sound words, which we have entertained in our mind, from an attentive reading of the New Testament; otherwise it may happen that we may esteem that a Christian congregation, which is no further Christian than in name. It is therefore the part of a prudent man, not to enter himself into any congregation, at least for a continuance; unless it be such, in which he perceives that doctrine established, which he truly thinks to be the Christian doctrine; lest he should put himself under a necessity of saying or doing something contrary, to what he thinks delivered and commanded by Christ.
We are to join ourselves with those, who are most
worthy the Name of Christians. Amongst Christians that differ from each other, and not only differ, but to their , shame!) condemn one another, and with cruel hatred banish them their society; to agree to any of them without examination, or, according to their order, to condemn others without consideration; shews a man not only to be imprudent, but very rash and unjust. That congregation which rejects, though but in part, the true religion, (a representation of which he has formed in his mind,) and condemns him that believes it; cannot be thought by such an one, a truly Christian congregation in all things; nor can it prevail with him, to condemn every man which that church shall esteem worthy to be condemned, and cast out of the society of Christians. Wherefore a wise and honest man, ought above all things to examine, in these dissensions amongst Christians, who are they, which best deserve the holy name of disciples of Christ, and to adhere to them. If any one should ask, what we are required to do by the Christian religion, suppos. ing there were no such Christian society at all, amongst whom the true doctrine of Christ seems to be taught, and amongst whom there is not a necessity laid upon us of condemning some doctrine, which we judge to be true. In this case, he who apprehends these errors, ought to endeavour to withdraw others from them; in doing of which, he must use the greatest candour, joined with the highest prudence and constancy; lest he offend men without doing them an advantage, or lest any hopes of bringing them to truth and moderation, be too suddenly cast off. In the mean time, we are to speak modestly and prudently, what we think to be the truth ; nor should any one be condemned by the judgment of another, as infected with error, who seems to think right. God has never forsaken, nor never will forsake the Christian name, so far, as that there shall remain no true Christians; or at least none such as cannot be brought back into the true way ; with whom we may maintain a stricter society, if others will not return to a more sound opinion; and openly withdraw ourselves from the obstinate, (which yet we ought not to do, without having tried all other means to no purpose ;) if it be not allowed you to speak your opinion fairly and modestly among them, and to forbear condemning those whom you think are not to be condemned. The Christian religion forbids us speaking contrary to our mind, and falsifying and condemning the innocent; nor can he be unacceptable to God, who, out of respect and admiration of those divine precepts, can endure anything rather than that they should be broke. Such a disposition of mind, arising from a sense of our duty, and a most ardent love of God, cannot but be highly well-pleasing to him.
Wherefore amongst Christians, who differ from each other, we are to examine which of them all think the most right; nor are we ever to condemn any but such as seem to us worthy to be condemned, after a full examination of the matter; and we are to adhere to those who do not require any doctrines to be believed, which are esteemed by us to be false, nor any to be condemned which we think to be true. If we cannot obtain this of any Christian society, we, together with those who are of the same opinion with ourselves, ought to separate from them all, that we betray not the truth, and utter a falsity.
They are most worthy the Name of Christians, who
in the purest Manner of all, profess the doctrine, the truth of which hath been proved by Grotius.
But it is a question of no small importance, and not easily to be resolved, who of all the societies of the present Christians, have the truest opinions, and are most worthy of that name by which they are called. All the Christian churches, as well as those who have long since separated from the Romish church, as the Romish church itself, do every one of them claim this to themselves; and if we lay aside all the reasons, we ought no more to give credit to the one than to the other; for it were a very foolish thing, to suffer such a choice to be determined by chance, and to decide all controversies, as it were, by the cast of a die.
Now since Grotius has not proved the truth of the particular opinions of any present sect of Christians, but only of that religion which was taught mankind by Christ and his Apostles; it follows, that that sect of Christians is to be preferred before all others, which does most of all defend those things, which Christ and his Apostles taught. In a word, that is in every particular truly the Christian religion, which, without any mixture of human invention, may be wholly ascribed to Christ as the author. To this agree all those arguments of truth, which are laid down in the second book of The Truth of the Christian Religion ; nor do they agree to any other, any further than it agrees with that.
If any one adds to, or diminishes from, the doctrine delivered by Christ; the more he adds or diminishes, so much the farther he goes from the truth. Now when I speak of the doctrine of Christ, I mean by it, the doctrine which all Christians are clearly agreed upon to be the doctrine of Christ; that is, which according to the judgment of all Christians, is either expressly to be found in the books of the New Testament, or is by necessary consequence, to be deduced from them only. As to those opinions, which as some Christians think, were delivered by word of mouth, by Christ and his Apostles, and derived to posterity in a different method, namely, either by tradition ; which was done by speaking only; or which were preserved by some rite, as they imagine, and not set down in writing till a great while after; I shall pass no other judgment upon them here, but only this, that all Christians are not agreed upon them, as they are upon the books of the New Testament. I will not say they are false, unless they are repugnant to right reason and revelation ; but only that they are not agreed about the original of them, and therefore they are controverted amongst Christians, who in other respects agree in those opinions, the truth of which Grotius has demonstrated; for no wise man will allow us to depend upon a thing as certain, so long as it appears uncertain to us ; especially if it be a matter of great moment.